The Angel of Chicago
Part Nine: Conclusions
"Did you get any sleep?" asked Arielle, the next morning, as she entered the kitchen and found Melody still where she had left her the night before.
"A few hours," said Melody, barely not yawning. "Your father insisted."
"You've been at this nearly twenty-four hours!"
"Even so, I've hardly scratched the surface." She looked up from the papers spread out on the kitchen table and intently into Arielle's eyes. "This is... staggeringly important. Especially since others aren't taking it seriously. I talked to my editor late yesterday and he said they'd received a copy of the same documents but had thought they were from some conspiracy theorist. I told him - without mentioning Blackpool - that I had independent verification and they're taking another look."
She shook her head, leaned back in the kitchen chair and sighed.
"They were ready to throw them away! Another hour or two and they'd have been lucky to get them back from the trash!"
"Dad and I and a few others have also been doing some research. Blackpool apparently sent copies to various news agencies and big city newspapers all over the US. And nobody took them seriously. It's just the sort of thing sensible people don't give much credence to."
"How is Blackpool?" asked Melody, now finally yielding to the yawn and also stretching.
"He was mainly exhausted," said Arielle. "His costume nearly stopped the bullet, and he's pretty tough underneath that. They treated his injuries and put him to bed. This morning, after they decided he'd slept enough, they sent Dad in to wake him. They figured that way he would awaken in an at-ease state, and not perhaps wreck the room before realizing where he was."
"One revelation: Blackpool is actually black."
"Huh. Guess I shouldn't be surprised," said Melody, nodding. "Quoting one of the references I read while researching all this 'To the distress of many bigots, the genes which are associated with empowerment are found in just about every population group.'"
She sighed again and rubbed her eyes.
"I'm almost finished. Thanks for the highlighters, by the way. I'll take a nap when I get to the end, then shower and lunch and start writing."
"Your paper isn't just going to publish the papers as they are?" said Arielle, surprised.
"No. Well, perhaps eventually, as an extra. Several people are planning to write articles and editorials explaining what's in the papers, once they've read them. Remember, I have a several-hour head start. They're pretty dry and require some background to understand in context."
"I guess I can see that," said Arielle. "I looked through them a bit, and there's not much in there of obvious interest. You have to know what you're looking at."
She sat beside Melody and put a hand over one of hers.
"My concern is where do we go from here? What do we - the empowered and those with us - do about this?"
"I wish I could say leave it to the authorities," said Melody, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip. "Unfortunately, there are apparently enough people of authority involved to confuse the issue and maybe convince those over them that this is all either a conspiracy against them or something necessary and/or misunderstood."
"Yeah..." said Arielle, with a sigh of her own.
* * *
To say that General Conyers was furious would be understating the situation. However, he was the sort who used rage as motivation. After learning that the New York Glory was now taking the stolen documents seriously - and convincing other institutions to do likewise - he began a multi-front assault.
First he had the advisor in the White House who was part of his group pass along information that the documents were forgeries, produced years earlier by external enemies of the US to be distributed by their patsies in the country; that they had been seized as evidence when the plotters were caught. Now they had been found by someone who thought they were real, and must be discredited immediately and thoroughly.
Second, he informed the State Department and the Department of Justice that the documents were secure evidence in a federal court case against those same plotters and that all copies needed to be seized, and those who had disseminated them or revealed their contents must be arrested for espionage.
Third, he advanced the clock on Project Flit.
Fourth, he contacted those of like mind in other nations. Mainly so that if he had to leave the US they wouldn't be surprised if he showed up at one of those locations. He really didn't think the US would fall to the schemes of the superhumans and their allies, but a good commander always kept his options open.
That's all I can do for now, he decided. Except find a way to make those responsible pay!
* * *
About mid-afternoon, Melody and Arielle were discussing a particularly obtuse page in the liberated documents when their host returned. They heard him enter the front hall and left the kitchen to greet him. Melody hung back when she realized he still had his wings out. She told herself it was because he needed the room.
"I just got back from Chicago," said Malak, looking at Melody as he hugged his daughter. "There was a huge gathering of empowered at the old headquarters."
He sighed, then gave a wry smile.
"I think I liked it better when I was the only one who could fly," said Malak. "It's getting positively crowded up there, and some fliers have no understanding of right of way. Or sense of direction."
Melody actually grinned at that.
"Try driving in Chicago, some time," she said. "I will never willingly do so again."
"So what did they say?" said Arielle, impatiently. "I know they were planning a teleconference, something national and even international."
"The consensus is that all this is the work of a few rogue elements in several governments, plus the covert actions of a few officially anti-empowered nations," said Malak, solemnly. Not for the first time, Melody noted that his voice in this form was deeper and more resonant. "The known actors are, of course, denying everything, because their plans are not yet ready. Something which gives those working against them hope. Many empowered and some law enforcement agencies are striving diligently to uncover the as yet unknown details of those plans. I just hope such efforts don't force their hand."
He gestured towards the coffee table in the living room, where Melody and Arielle had moved the papers in the late morning to clear the kitchen table for lunch.
"Shall we? I just flew in from Chicago and my wings are tired."
The joke was lame, and garnered more eye rolls than smiles. However, the trio did move towards his indicated destination. Malak became Aaron as they walked.
"All this because one individual decided to cover his culpability in a lack of security on an awards show."
"Once someone becomes used to being corrupt in large scale, being corrupt in small scale becomes automatic," said Malak, sadly. "That sort of ego also leads to a casual attitude about such things as diligence in carrying out one's assigned duties."
"What really concerns me is hints in these documents that at least some of those involved have some grand scheme," said Arielle. "The problem is that even the newest documents Blackpool found in that storeroom are several years old. Some of the people mentioned as being involved with the - one hesitates to give the label 'plot' as that implies far more coherent organization than we're actually seeing - plans have been dead for several years."
"I love it when you talk like that," said Melody, grinning.
"Uhm, yes," said Aaron. "Getting back on topic, some of what was revealed at our conference compliments what Blackpool uncovered. What we're seeing is worrying. Some sort of plan to cause a major event and blame empowered, so that those behind the plot will be able to convince those actually in control of the US to support the anti-empowered position of the plotters."
"How big an 'event' are we talking about?" said Melody, worried.
"Alas, there are few specifics. Mostly hints from a few people making comments along the lines of 'When we make folks think they've killed thousands of people, then the majority will come around to our viewpoint.' With 'them' being the empowered."
"You can hardly get a dozen empowered to agree on where to have lunch," said Arielle, sourly. "Why do people think we're all united in some great conspiracy?!"
"If they can convince themselves that their failings are the fault of someone else, people will believe anything about that someone else which supports that view," said Aaron. "No matter how absurd it may seem objectively."
"Great," said Melody, tiredly. She threw her hands up. "I don't know what to do! Well, except spread the word quietly among my own contacts."
"That could actually be a big help," said Aaron. "Having word of this effort come from non-empowered sources might make people take it more seriously."
"It will also convince some people that the right thing to do is crack down on empowered," said Arielle, flatly. "Even if we can prove it's a plot by a few influential non-empowered. You know; just in case."
"Prohibition never works," said Aaron, now also sounding tired. Melody remembered that he had lived through Prohibition. She made a mental note to ask him about that later. "It can even increase demand by adding the allure of the forbidden to that which is prohibited. That doesn't keep people from trying it. Even those for whom it has never worked."
* * *
"General!" came the shouted cry from behind Conyers.
He glanced over his shoulder, saw who was calling and stopped to wait for the hurrying man. Lieutenant Talbert was a diligent young officer, but still needed to work on his dignity.
"What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Sir, this is something not for public consumption," the younger man said, quietly, once he reached the general officer.
Conyers nodded, and led the way back to his office. He'd been on the way to the commissary, but that could wait.
"All right, spill it!" he barked, once they were secure in his office.
"The diversion Major Grimes was arranging has worked," said Talbert. "Halberd has gone on a rampage, and is targeting Crunch and some of the others he thinks sabotaged the show he's in, preventing it from even being considered for an award."
"I still don't see why Grimes thinks that will divert attention away from the scandal."
Lieutenant Talbert didn't know about Project Flit. He thought they were doing a favor for a pro-military politician who wanted the scandal about the security problems revealed by the attack on the awards show covered up. Talbert was just ambitious enough to see helping with this as a way to get a leg up on his career, and just stupid enough not to ask important questions about what he was doing.
"Well, sir, he thinks that starting a fight between those two jerks in a situation away from the show will make the public forget about the security questions."
Conyers wasn't sure, but Grimes often knew better how the public and press would react. Also, from the sound of it the misinformation was also already doing its work in other areas. Well, as long as he was aware of the situation so as not to be caught by surprise, he didn't really care if some of those idiots killed each other.
"Very well. Thank you, Lieutenant. That will be all."
"Thank you, sir!" the man said, smiling and saluting smartly.
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